John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for September, 2018

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‘Lost for words’: Somerset cuts £28m of help for most vulnerable

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

Tory council latest casualty of drastic austerity measures imposed on local government

On Wednesday the eight-person cabinet of Somerset county council voted through £28m of spending cuts, spread over the next two years. Over the previous six months, speculation had raged about whether Somerset would become the next Conservative-run council to join Northamptonshire in effectively going bankrupt and to call in government commissioners to sort out its mess.

And here was the answer, delivered at not much more than a week’s notice. To avoid a final disastrous plunge into the red, there would be a hacking down of help for vulnerable families and children with special educational needs, youth services, road gritting, flood prevention and much more.

Related: Austerity kills: this week’s figures show its devastating toll | Owen Jones

What is austerity?

Related: Northamptonshire forced to pay the price of a reckless half-decade | Patrick Butler

Related: Austerity, outsourcing and English councils in crisis | Letters

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The growth of private policing is eroding justice for all | John Harris

Monday, September 10th, 2018

Security firms stepping in for overstretched officers is another signifier of how austerity Britain is becoming more unequal

Martock is a 4,700-population village on the edge of the Somerset Levels. Superficially, it does not look like somewhere positioned on the cutting edge of social policy, with faint echoes of the future as imagined by JG Ballard and Philip K Dick. But viewed from a certain angle, a scheme that has been running since April might suggest something close.

Four nights a week between 10pm and 1am, some of Martock’s streets are visited at least twice by two employees of a company called Atlas UK Security Services, who drive a branded car, have body-mounted digital cameras, and are charged with keeping an eye on low-level local crime. They were brought in by the parish council when problems with noise, criminal damage and antisocial behaviour around a shopping parade began to reach a critical point: according to local councillor Neil Bloomfield, who took the lead in drafting in new help, Avon and Somerset police told locals they “couldn’t give us the level of patrolling we thought we needed to deal with it”.

The point is inevitable: would that such dedicated service were available to less affluent neighbourhoods

Related: The industry of inequality: why the world is obsessed with private security

Related: A private force isn’t the answer to the policing crisis | Calum Macleod

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Britain’s shared spaces are vanishing, leaving us a nation of cliques | John Harris

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

Austerity and technology have combined to close pubs, youth clubs and libraries up and down the country

In our towns, villages and suburbs, they are now such a common sight as to be mundane: boarded-up pubs, awaiting conversion to some new use or forlornly falling into dereliction. The current rate of closure is put at 18 a week. In rural areas, shuttered hostelries represent something particularly tragic: with churches reduced to silent visitor attractions and shops long since gone, they embody the demise of precious local assets in places where maintaining community life is an ongoing struggle.

Blame for the demise of pubs tends to focus on the 2007 smoking ban, impossible business rates and beer duty, the ocean of cheap alcohol sold by the big supermarkets, and younger people’s dwindling interest in booze and its associated rituals. Even if it ignores the ways in which many pubs have changed, the enduring idea that they are essentially male environments must also be part of any explanation. But there is also a clear sense of something every bit as fundamental: the decline of shared spaces, and the way we seem to be splintering into ever-smaller social niches. Many local businesses and institutions that depend on attracting a wide range of people are fading away. Worse still, the local and national politicians who might intervene often seem either not to care or to be making a bad situation even worse.

Related: The estate where local people refused to call last orders | Aditya Chakrabortty

Places emphasising affordability and appeal across income groups and generations are ​​viewed more snobbishly than ever

Related: Now struggling families have a no-deal Brexit to add to their worries | Frances Ryan

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